“Northeast” in India’s academic and public discourse


Whenever there is any discourse regarding the political and social issues about the country (I won’t say the Indian state; that may lead to terming me anti-nationalist because it is often used by those whom the Government calls so) I often find it linked to the issues we, ‘the people of North-East’, face in our day-to-day life. I also think that the political, social, economic, and cultural issues that many scholars in the country discuss very much exist in the region. But what I am amused is the fact that in such discussions they wittingly or ‘unwittingly’ (I doubt if they are ignorant!) ignore the region which has been facing similar issues (I do not mean we have similar problems and solutions, but some problems are clearly relevant to the topics they discuss). Therefore, when these scholars discuss about social movements and civil liberty movements in India, they often do not mention the decade-long civil liberty movements in the region; when they discuss about the reorganization of states in India, they fail to point out what happened in the region; when they discuss about environmental movements, they never mention the similar movements in the region. The examples are many, and, more so, only the frustrations increase.

Now, whenever these re-known scholars fail to remember the region (sometimes I doubt if these scholars are even aware of the region or its existence except when they speak about the territorial integrity and unity of India- a slow development of thinking after so many instances of ignorance), I always want to ask millions of questions to these ‘great scholars’ in classes, public meetings, etc. But, I have a problem here. And, I request all my seniors, friends to respond to my problem. I believe that more than one person is facing this problem and please don’t denounce it by simply calling ‘vulnerability’- it is more than that.

These days I feel it awkward to ask questions quoting North-East and the issues the people of the region face even if the question is pertinent to the topic of discussion. All the time in most cases it seems the impression that ‘if there is a North-Easterner, there is a question on North-East’. This again gives the impression that the only question a ‘person from North-East’ can ask is quoting the ‘troubled-hit’ region. This is the most discouraging and demoralizing thing. This, I find, is an insult to our intellectual capacity as well. Truth is, the question on what they think relevant seems irrelevant to us because of factors that all of us well know and this is why we ask questions we choose. Another truth is, why we ask what we ask is because they have never given a satisfactory response to our questions, orally or in writing (as far as my knowledge is concerned). My problem here is the way how we and our intellectual capacity is perceived and interpreted. More often than not the questions we ask are identified with our identity of being from a particular region and accordingly our intellectual capacity is judged. People from other parts of India may have such problems, but they are more or less merged with the ‘nation’ as compared to North-East; they are more identified as India than is the case with the people of the North-East. This is not an imagination of a communal and regional fanatic. This is a question that every rational mind on earth would ask.

I want to know whether we should continue to ask on issues that concern us or we should pretend to be a good scholar by asking ‘other questions’ even if we know that the better question at hand is the one that concerns our issue. What is our response to this paradox?

PS: Kindly don’t bring in the arguments such as I am drawing a dividing line by saying ‘we’ and ‘they’, or anti-national, etc. Kindly do not divert the focus.


First published on my Facebook wall, I wrote this while I was pursuing Masters in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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